The kid’s name was Phillip and he was a deep one. The silent type like you read about. This was a cat who wouldn’t say “Fire!” if his own head was ablaze.

You know the type. While everyone else is babbling and hollering and sharing all the minutiae of their mundane lives, there’s that one guy off to the side who just listens. He smiles and nods where appropriate but doesn’t try to contribute to the conversation. Very mysterious. And romantic. A guy like that, he could be a fugitive on the run. He could be an agent for the CIA or maybe a trained assassin between assignments.

But Phillip wasn’t any of those things. He was just another kid from Waterville High School, home of the Purple Panthers and a shop teacher with a missing thumb.

Phillip was quiet the whole time I knew him. And adolescence is no easy time to pull that off. You’ve got your keg parties which require whooping and romantic developments that require lying about. You’ve got things like acne and parents and mean-ass teachers about which to complain.

Adolescence is a time of constant observation and most of us had to share every tiny thought that appeared in our minds like pimples on our foreheads. We had to share, compare and contrast because everything was new and worthy of our prattle.

But not Phillip. Phillip only observed. He was there at the house parties, the football games and the arcade. He was with us when we skipped school and went to the beach and he was along when we wandered into Winslow to scope out a new class of girl.


Phillip was one of us, but we knew almost nothing about him. International spy? Kung fu warrior? Extraterrestrial? Phillip gave no clue. He was an enigma, as bright and mysterious as the moon.

I wanted to be such a riddle. And so, maybe halfway through my sophomore year, I decided to abandon my wordy nature and become taciturn. The strong, silent type, like Steve Austin or Mighty Mouse.

At parties, I would stand off in a corner, trying to observe rather than interact. I tried to avoid speaking when a nod would do. But then some fool would start mouthing off about having hooked up with Sarah, the hottest Purple Panther of all, and I’d have to jump in to prove him a liar.

Or someone would offer that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” was about an actual bird or something moronic like that and I’d have to educate him.

Or someone would remark on a heavy matter — you know, like the weather — and I’d have to squeeze in there with my big, red cup and share what I knew about the topic, even if that happened to be absolutely nothing.

This new reticence lasted maybe an hour, or roughly half a beer ball. Because some people are Mighty Mouse and others are Foghorn Leghorn. No matter how much I wanted to be the brooding sort, I was designed by nature to talk and talk and talk about everything, even if I happened to be alone. Where Phillip was a mute button, I was the volume cranked up loud.


It still bugs me. In the course of my work, I occasionally cross paths with a silent type. The guy who saves three kids from a house fire and when asked if he’d like to comment about it, just says, “Nope” and walks away. Cool and quiet. I think to myself, “Now, why can’t I be like that?” And then I go off to verbally explore the question with anyone who will listen. And when there’s no one left, I sit down and write a thousand words about the matter.

It’s tragic. I once asked Phillip how he maintained that thoughtful silence and you know what he said? Nothing, that’s what. He only shrugged. Shrugged! How other-side-of-the-pillow cool is that?

So now, here I am, a million years out of high school and I haven’t learned to shut up. I talk to myself, talk in my sleep, talk about the matter of talking. To me, words are like bad food. You either regurgitate them or they will poison you. Phillip meanwhile probably became a ninja, or a department store mannequin. I have no idea where he went. I only know that he got there quietly.

And so, to all you silent types, my deep, uneasy respect. I don’t know if you secretly burn with a desire to communicate or if the silence is truly comforting. Whatever the case, I admire you. And I pay tribute to you all in the only way I know how. By saying this:

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can show him how cool you are by not writing to

Comments are no longer available on this story